Banishing Bad Hair Days since 1997!™

Water Based Brain Eating Amoeba

I have a confession to make.  I'm a germ-aphobe.  Seriously.  I'm not sure why, but over the years my affliction has gotten progressively worse.  Growing up in South St. Louis I wasn't too worried about anything germ related.

Nor did I fret about getting some weird disease when I had to dissect a dead fetal pig in the biology lab at Bishop Du Bourg high school in South St. Louis.

I think my germ phobia started when I worked part time in hospitals while I was working my way through college.

Hospitals are literally swimming in germs that can kill you.  Around that time I also started reading medical and science journals and a perfect storm was created.  I become very paranoid about weird germs lurking in all sorts of places.

How does being paranoid about germs have anything to do with hair or beauty?  Well of course I keep an eagle eye on the expiration dates on shampoo and related beauty products.  I always throw my mascara away when it seems even remotely dangerous.

The real reason I'm writing about water based brain eating amoeba (Naegleria fowleri (nuh-GLEER-ee-uh FOWL-er-eye)) is because it was recently reported by health officials that two children and a young man in his 20s have died from this rare condition this summer.

Even more noteworthy is that the death of the young man who died in Louisiana in June was traced to tap water he used in a neti pot.

Oprah has talked about neti pots and they have become much more popular than ever before.  A neti pot is a small teapot-shaped containers used to rinse out the nose and sinuses with salt water to help relieve allergies, colds and sinus problems.

Dr. Raoult Ratard, Louisiana's state epidemiologist reported that the deadly brain eating amoeba was in the home's water system.  It was actually confined to the house and not found in city water samples.  The young man had not been out swimming nor had he had any known contact with surface water anywhere.

From all indications somehow the neti pot and the home's tap water joined to allow the amoeba to attack and ultimately cause the young man's untimely death.  The amoeba travels up the nose, burrows up into the skull and literally eats brain tissue.

Dr. Ratard cautioned people to only use sterile, distilled or boiled water in neti pots.

Okay, I'm definitely on board with that recommendation.  In fact, recently I caused a minor flap with some of my friends when I insisted upon sterilizing the ceramic carafe which holds my delivered water jugs.  My friends thought my paranoia about germs had spiraled completely out of control, but in retrospect I am glad that I was safe and not sorry.

Another reason for my ongoing paranoia about water is that my long time rolfer, Sam Johnson, developed a horrible infection from drinking tainted water last Fall during a mountain climbing expedition in Nepal.  I watched him waste away before my very eyes from a parasite.  Eventually he was cured, but it was scary to watch what he went through.  And no, don't expect me doing any climbing in Nepal during this lifetime.

Not that the brain eating amoeba has my address or anything.  The illness is extremely rare.  Only about 120 U.S. cases have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since the amoeba was identified in the early 1960s.

Almost all of the reported cases have resulted in death and usually involve kids - often boys - who get exposed to the amoeba while swimming or doing related water activities in warm ponds or lakes.

It is most commonly found in the South in hot summer months.  There is no evidence of this organism living in ocean water.  It is also found in soil, near warm water discharges of industrial plants, and unchlorinated swimming pools in an amoeboid or temporary flagellate stage.

There are no signs that cases are increasing, said Jonathan Yoder, who coordinates surveillance of waterborne diseases for the CDC.   It's also considered a medical mystery why some people who swim in amoeba infested water die while others don't.  The mortality rate is estimated at 98%.  Sounds like an excellent cause for Dr. House.

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